The republic of Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides) is a chain of some seventy islands that extends for about 500 miles in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, southeast of New Guinea and northeast of mainland Australia. Vanuatu's most significant art styles developed on the larger islands of Ambrym and Malekula and on the outlying Banks Islands, essentially in conjunction with the exclusively male secret societies ("sukwe") that regulated almost all social life. At considerable personal expense, members progressed through a series of graded initiations and thereby enhanced their status within the community, ensuring their rank and well-being after death. Each initiation required the sacrifice of pigs and the carving of commemorative sculpture. This figure originally stood before a men's ceremonial house, its body encased (and shielded) by vines, its head obscured by a large fern.
Like much of the sculpture of this area, the figure is carved from the lower part of a tree-fern stem (inverted in the finished piece), which consists of a wood core surrounded by an interlocking mass of fibers. Easily carved soon after cutting, the tree fern hardens with age to become a very durable material. The porous surface does not permit refined sculptural detail and dictates the bold forms. Although the sculptures were often coated with a paste and painted, the paint rarely survives intact. The monumental scale, expressive vigor, and overt sexuality of this figure are characteristic of sculpture from Vanuatu and from Melanesia as a whole.
"Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection," page 74